Turning Bath Water To Tea

Turning Bath Water To Tea

Apparently writers block didn't exist until the 1900s. Maybe it was because each word took a while to write out with pen and ink. So by the time you finished writing a sentence, you had already started coming up with the next one. Where did the ‘blockage’ come from? I think it's because today, people often sit down and try to make something up when you really should think through what you're going to say before you have to put words out there.

[How is it possible to be creative and churn out a post when a table of Norwegians is behind you eating bagels, drinking smoothies and laughing like drunken sailors every 2 minutes? Norwegian block. That's what I'm experiencing.]

Maybe I'll tell a story. That's a good place to start when you can't start anywhere else. Tell a story.

The Road To Mutare

A few years ago, Tommy and I headed to Mutare, Zimbabwe to showcase a business conference. Mutare is the diamond and coffee district in Zimbabwe. It's absolutely beautiful countryside—green, lush mountains. At one pass on the highway, you overlook and can see the Mozambique border. That's where Blood Diamond was filmed.

We arrived at our hotel and there was no electricity. No expected power in the next few days either. No problem, we'll just head to another hotel. So we found a 20-story hotel rising out of the despairing skyline of struggling Mutare. We chatted with the manager of the hotel and he assured us that we'd have power. We had to pay a little extra here, but at least we'd have power for a hot bath at the end of the day.

[The Norwegians are laughing again. Sounds like someone's going to die of a lung flying across the table. They're definitely charismatic. Make it stop.]

Back to my story.

The Knock At The Door

We set our things in our rooms and headed down to the restaurant for dinner. As soon as we got to the restaurant, the power cut out. So much for our hotel manager's promise. We had an eerie candlelight dinner. There was nothing romantic about this. But the humor of our team made light of it all.

Back to our room. We got our lone candle lit. "Man, I wish we had a gas stove so we could boil some water for tea…that would at least bring a bit of comfort to this situation," said Tommy. I agreed.

Then a knock at the door. There standing in the darkness was a bellman with a container of boiling water. "Hot water, sirs?"

We looked at each other. It was a miracle. God had heard our prayers. Hot water for tea! How on earth did the hotel know? Maybe our room was tapped. No, there was no way they could have boiled the water that quickly...plus there's no power. Either way, our situation was looking brighter.

There was a large quantity of water, so we quickly deduced this was to be used for bath water. Only problem was, it was a small bucket and it wouldn't be near enough for a bath. We decided to forego the intended purpose of this water and use it for tea. So, we began scooping out the scalding water in the darkness, then using the lights from our Econet Nokia candy bar phones to light the way.

After steeping, we went out on our balcony and enjoyed the balmy night with our delicious rooibos tea. Good chats ensued.

I spent the first part of the conversation chatting it up. Tommy then finished his tea and I began sipping mine. Two sips in, I remark, "Huh, this tea is interesting. What kind did you make?"

"Just regular rooibos."

"This doesn't taste like regular rooibos…"

"Yeah, I thought it tasted a bit strange too."

"So you just guzzled it down?!"

We laughed. I gulped down half of my cup, then dumped the rest off the 12th floor balcony. We turned in for the night.

On that balcony, we had a compelling talk about how to help Africa reach her future. It shaped our focus into what Emerging Ideas is today.

The Realization

That night was miserable. Not only were our stomachs churning, but the neighborhood decided to have a "going away party" for the electricity. They all brought their generators and powered up a sound system that was fit for a U2 concert. And it was pounding. They were partying…hard. And we couldn't sleep.

The next morning couldn't have taken longer to arrive. It was conference time and the power was on, but because we were on the 12th story it was taking quite a bit of time for any water to filter through the shower. Ah, we can use the water from the night before.

"Hey Tommy, where's the water we used for tea?"

Tommy walked into the kitchen, "I don't know. I didn't do anything with it."

The only thing sitting in the kitchen was a blue mop bucket. Strange.

The truth of the moment sunk in like the tea sank into our stomachs the night before…heavily. We looked at each other and both yelled, "NO WAY!"

We hadn't used clean, Dasani water in a pristinely cleaned basin. Oh no, we'd used dirty water from a filthy mop bucket to make our rooibos tea. A mop bucket that had cleaned the floors of Hotel Mutare for who knows how many years. Even that water wouldn't have been fit for bathing.

We had turned bath water into tea (and, boy, did it bite).

In the third world, things are never as they seem. Always analyze, double back, ask around, and make sure you kill every ounce of naivety.

The bath water to tea lesson has stuck in our minds ever since. It's one thing to take something at face value, but in business, and especially business in the third world, nothing is ever face value.

So the moral of the story? Always carry a flash light? Or maybe go without tea when you go without power? I think maybe the moral is to always enjoy the company you keep, no matter the circumstances and no matter what the tea tastes like.

Some people look at Africa and see a dirty mop bucket, but when we look at Africa, we choose to see the potential.

(photo via carsten ten brink)